Thursday, January 9, 2014

Artemisia- Herb of the Year 2014

I presented a program on Artemisia for our January 2014 Meeting.  Here is an informative article I wrote on Artemisia from which I gave the presentation:

Photo courtesy of The International Herb Association
Artemisia: Herb of the Year™ 2014

Artemisia is a large, diverse genus of plants with between 200 to 400 species belonging to the daisy family Asteraceae.

It comprises hardy herbs and shrubs known for their volatile oils. They grow in temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere, usually in dry or semi-dry habitats. The fern-like leaves of many species are covered with white hairs.
Common names used for several species include mugwort, sagebrush, sagewort, and wormwood, while a few species have unique names, notably *Tarragon (A. dracunculus) and Southernwood (A. abrotanum).

Occasionally some of the species are called sages, causing confusion with the Salvia sages in the family Lamiaceae.

Most species have strong aromas and bitter tastes from terpenoids and sesquiterpene lactones, which exists as an adaptation to discourage herbivory. The small flowers are wind-pollinated.

The aromatic leaves of many species of Artemisia are medicinal, and some are used for flavouring. Most species have an extremely bitter taste.

Wormwood has been used medicinally as a tonic, stomachic, febrifuge and anthelmintic- to destroy parasitic worms.

Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort or common wormwood) is one of several species in the genus Artemisia which have common names that include the word mugwort. This species is also occasionally known as Felon Herb, Chrysanthemum Weed, Wild Wormwood, Old uncle Henry, Sailor's Tobacco, Naughty Man, Old Man or St. John's Plant (not to be confused with St John's wort).

Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort or common wormwood)

It is native to temperate Europe, Asia, northern Africa and Alaska and is naturalized in North America, where some consider it an invasive weed. It is a very common plant growing on nitrogenous soils, like weedy and uncultivated areas, such as waste places and roadsides.

It is a tall herbaceous perennial plant growing 1–2 m (rarely 2.5 m) tall, with a woody root. The leaves are dark green, pinnate, with dense white tomentose hairs on the underside. It flowers from July to September.

The Mugwort is closely allied to the Common Wormwood, but may be readily distinguished by the leaves being white on the under-surfaces only and by the leaf segments being pointed, not blunt. It lacks the essential oil of the Wormwood.

Mugwort oil contains thujone, which is toxic in large amounts or under prolonged intake. Thujone is also present in Thuja plicata (western red cedar), from which the name is derived. Mugwort herb contains a very small percentage of oil, so is generally considered safe to use. Pregnant women, though, should avoid consuming large amounts of mugwort. The species has a number of recorded historic uses in food, herbal medicine, and as a smoking herb.

Middle Ages

In the European Middle Ages, mugwort was used as a magical protective herb. Mugwort was used to repel insects, especially moths, from gardens. Mugwort has also been used from ancient times as a remedy against fatigue and to protect travelers against evil spirits and wild animals. Roman soldiers put mugwort in their sandals to protect their feet against fatigue.

The leaves and buds, best picked shortly before the plant flowers in July to September, were used as a bitter flavoring agent to season fat, meat and fish.

It has also been used to flavor beer before the introduction of or instead of hops.


The mugwort plant contains essential oils (such as cineole, or wormwood oil, and thujone), flavonoids, triterpenes, and coumarin derivatives. It was also used as an anthelminthic, so it is sometimes confused with wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). The plant, called nagadamni in Sanskrit, is used in Ayurveda for cardiac complaints as well as feelings of unease, unwellness and general malaise.[9]  Since it also causes uterine contractions, it has been used to cause abortion.


In Germany, known as Beifuß, it is mainly used to season goose, especially the roast goose traditionally eaten for Christmas.


Mugwort or yomogi is used in a number of Japanese dishes, including rice cakes. In some regions in Japan, there is an ancient custom of hanging yomogi and iris leaves together outside homes in order to keep evil spirits away. It is said that evil spirits dislike their smell. The juice is said to be effective at stopping bleeding, lowering fevers and purging the stomach of impurities. It can also be boiled and taken to relieve colds and coughs.


Mugwort pollen is one of the main sources of hay fever and allergic asthma, in North Europe, North America and in parts of Asia. Mugwort pollen generally travels less than 2,000 meters. The highest concentration of mugwort pollen is generally found between 9 and 11 am. Cooking is known to decrease the allergenicity of mugwort.
Artemisia absinthium Absinth Wormwood
Artemisia absinthium (Absinth Wormwood, Common Wormwood) was used to repel fleas and moths, and in brewing (wormwood beer, wormwood wine). The aperitif vermouth (derived from the German word Wermut, "wormwood") is a wine flavored with aromatic herbs, but originally with wormwood. The highly potent spirit absinthe also contain wormwood. Absinthe was highly intoxicating and addictive due to thujone.

What is thujone? Thujone is an organic compound found in varying ratios in different plants.  Plants such as cedar leaf, sage, tansy, thyme, rosemary and wormwood known to contain thujone. It is believed that Thujone is used in several modern products including Absorbine Jr.®, Vicks Vaporub.

Some have taken dried Wormwood, placed it inside a coffee filter to form a sort of "pod" and then placed them under furniture and such as a natural way of repelling fleas from their home.

From Mrs. Grieve's A Modern Herbal

The Common Wormwood held a high reputation in medicine among the Ancients. Tusser (1577), in July's Husbandry, says:
'While Wormwood hath seed get a handful or twaine
To save against March, to make flea to refraine:
Where chamber is sweeped and Wormwood is strowne,
What saver is better (if physick be true)
For places infected than Wormwood and Rue?
It is a comfort for hart and the braine
And therefore to have it it is not in vaine.'
Besides being strewn in chambers as Tusser recommended, it used to be laid among stuffs and furs to keep away moths and insects.

According to the Ancients, Wormwood counteracted the effects of poisoning by hemlock, toadstools and the biting of the seadragon. The plant was of some importance among the Mexicans, who celebrated their great festival of the Goddess of Salt by a ceremonial dance of women, who wore on their heads garlands of Wormwood.

With the exception of Rue, Wormwood is the bitterest herb known, but it is very wholesome and used to be in much request by brewers for use instead of hops. The leaves resist putrefaction, and have been on that account a principal ingredient in antiseptic fomentations.

Wormwood leaves’ primary use is to stimulate the gallbladder, help prevent, and release stones, and to adjust resulting digestive problems. Clinical studies with volunteers proved that wormwood does effectively increase bile.

It expels roundworms and threadworms. It is also a muscle relaxer that is occasionally added to liniments, especially for rheumatism.

Wormwood is an extremely useful medicine for those with weak and under active digestions. It increases stomach acid and bile production and therefore improves digestion and the absorption of nutrients, making it helpful for many conditions including anemia.

It also eases gas and bloating, and if the tincture is taken regularly, it slowly strengthens the digestion and helps the body return to full vitality after a prolonged illness. Use as a weak infusion taken 2 – 3 times daily. Can be used as a compress for stings and bites.

Artemisia arborescens Tree Wormwood, is a very bitter herb indigenous to the Middle East that is used in tea, usually with Mentha also known as mint. In small quantities (in tea) its believed to have medicinal properties, pacifying various kinds of digestion turmoils. In larger doses it may have some hallucinogenic properties. In Israel Artemisia is sometimes referred to by the name "Shiva", the Queen of Sheba.

Artemisia arborescens Tree Wormwood
Photo courtesy of

Artemisia abrotanum Southernwood is a flowering plant.  The plant is a member of the genus Artemisia, along with mugwort and wormwood (an ingredient in absinthe). Southernwood has a strong camphor-like odour and was historically used as an air freshener or strewing herb. It forms a small bushy shrub, which is widely cultivated by gardeners. The grey-green leaves are small, narrow and feathery. The small flowers are yellow. It can easily be propagated by cuttings, or by division of the roots.

Southernwood is antiseptic and kills intestinal worms.[citation needed] It was used to treat liver, spleen and stomach problems and was believed by the 17th century herbalist Culpeper to encourage menstruation.[1] It is seldom used medicinally today, except in Germany, where poultices are placed on wounds, splinters and skin conditions and it is employed occasionally to treat frostbite. Its constituents have been shown[who?] to stimulate the gallbladder and bile, which improves digestion and liver functions. The leaves are mixed with other herbs in aromatic baths and is said to counter sleepiness. An infusion of the leaves is said to work as a natural insect repellent when applied to the skin or if used as a hair rinse is said to combat dandruff.

It can be very useful when grown in a chicken run as it helps to keep the chickens in tip top condition and helps to prevent them from 'Feather-Picking' (which can be lethal as they can very quickly become cannibalistic) as it helps to prevent infestation of mites and other insects that pester chickens.

Artemisia abrotanum Southernwood
Photo courtsey of Moustain Valley Growers

Sweet Annie- A. annua
Sweet Annie is very easy to grow, in fact, some might even call it invasive, and it is considered a noxious weed in some places. You can try and deadhead the blooms to keep it from reseeding, but in my experience, this is very difficult because the blooms are so numerous. I love it, though, and don't mind where it comes up on its own... but then my "garden" is anything but organized and formal!

This Artemisia will grow in sun to shade here in Texas. It will reach a height of about 4 or 5 feet in one season. It is not particular about soil type and needs very little water once it starts to gain some size. It looks good in containers, too. In fact, some people grow it in pots and shape it for a Christmas Tree.

The seeds are small, so if you purchase seed or harvest some and want to sow them yourself, just sprinkle the seed on the surface of the soil or potting medium and keep them moist. They should germinate within 2 weeks.
Sweet Annie, known in China as qing-hao, has been used in treating malaria and fever since the seventh century. Western herbalists, too, have used the plant for this purpose, and value it also for its effectiveness against diarrhea, indigestion, and certain bacterial diseases. In the past 20 years, scientists in Beijing have isolated a substance from sweet Annie (found only in this herb) which they have used to treat quinine-resistant malaria in thousands of patients, with nearly 100 percent success. Because allergic reactions are common, medicinal use of this herb should be undertaken only under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.
Artemisia Annua Sweet Annie
The above article written by Herbiecott

The following information is provided by Herbie.

*French Tarragon

One of the most wonderful culinary herbs is French Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus Estragon not to be confused with Russian Tarragon A. redowskii which is sometimes classified A. Dracunculoides and sold as "Tarragon". It is a close relative to the French Tarragon, that looks the same, but has no flavor, so make sure you are buying the correct tarragon. One way to check is to crush a few leaves, and if you get a delicate anise-like flavor then it is probably the French Tarragon. If you get no flavor, then you probably have the Russian Tarragon.

The following growing conditions for French Tarragon are from website:
Grown as a clump-forming perennial in most of the country, French tarragon thrives in regions where winter provides a period of rest and summers are not too hot or too wet. In warm climates, give French tarragon some shelter from the afternoon sun. In a subtropical climate, French tarragon behaves like a winter annual, planted in fall and harvested through winter and spring. 
French tarragon has a fleshy root system that prefers a loose, soil enriched with organic matter. However, it must be well-drained. In fact, it is quite drought tolerant. If your soil is heavy and your climate hot and humid, you will have the best chance of success by planting in a container or hanging basket where it drains well and has good air circulation. 
Like most herbs, French tarragon likes soil with a neutral pH. 
Remember to cut back browned foliage in spring to make way for new growth. Where it prospers, divide the plant every third year to renew it.
More growing information for French Tarragon:
It requires a sunny position (partial shade in hot climates) in light, well-drained soil, pH 6.7. Water well in dry weather, though it is fairly drought-resistant and fertilize often. Over-watering will cause root rot. Usually becomes dormant during winter and may be difficult to grow in warmer climates. In cold climates, cut the plants to the ground after frost has killed the top growth and mulch well with straw. Foliage dies back in winter. Roots should be lifted and divided every 2 years. The plant is susceptible to mildew and root rot.

French Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus Estragon
Photo courtsey of Moustain Valley Growers

OK, for us living down here in Texas or anywhere in the deep South, I suggest that you don't even try to grow French Tarragon because of the combined high heat and high humidity and no cold winters down here. It just doesn't grow well here, although the Russian Tarragon will take over your yard! 

So I suggest that you substitute Mexican Mint MarigoldTagetes Lucida a/k/a Texas Tarragon. It's just as good (if not better according to one of my chef friends) and easy to grow, and unlike the French Tarragon, it gets a pretty yellow flower in the fall which looks nice and tastes good in salads, vinegars, poultry, eggs, etc. It is a perennial that comes back every spring if it is mulched heavily.
Mexican Mint Marigold
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Gardens Nursery
Mexican Mint Marigold
Tagetes Lucida
(Also called Winter Tarragon, Texas Tarragon, False Tarragon) Tagetes, the marigold genus, originated in the cool mountains of Mexico.

Sweet licorice flavor brightens salads and main dishes. Pretty, golden yellow flowers bloom all summer. Thrives in warmer climates where French tarragon will not grow. Medicinal: Stimulant and diuretic. Improves digestion. 80-90 days to harvest when started indoors. Hardiness zones: 8-11.

Semihardy herbaceous perennial
Aromatic, Cosmetic. Culinary, Medicinal, Ornamental
1-1/2 to 2 feet high, 1 to 1-1/2 feet wide
Full Sun
Moist acid to alkaline soil
For more information on Artemisia, check out websites:

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